Are you talking with your kids? No, not your children at home–though I would hope you’re having these kinds of conversations with them as well. However, I want to know if you’re having conversations with your students? And by conversations, I mean are you discussing topics and real life situations that your students may encounter beyond the state/district mandated curriculum?
I teach 11th and 12th grade at a public high school and I know the difficulty of trying to find time for one more thing on an already overcrowded agenda. However, having “real world” talks are something every secondary teacher should have in their classroom.
I don’t know about you, but more than 90% percent of my students will be first generation college attendees. And quite frankly, they are not having the necessary conversations they need in preparation for college and careers at home or school. If it’s anything like my school, each counselor has a student load of more than 400+ students to work with and there is only one dedicated college/career counselor for nearly 900 students. In competition with family crises, academic scheduling, academic testing, and a whole host of socio/emotional problems, one-on-one college counseling often takes a back seat despite the best of efforts. On the other hand, however, these “real world” conversations often do not occur at home because many parents of first generation college students simply cannot discuss experiences they have not had.
Before I continue further, let me first define “real world” talks. “Real world” talks are about college, careers, and practical skills like organization and basic money management. “Real world” talks are not about politics, religion, sexuality, or any other topic that could potentially veer into an inappropriate zone. In many ways, “real world” talks are about you sharing your knowledge and experiences with college, career, and life with your students. You don’t have to be an expert. Sometimes, tactfully sharing your mistakes can be as useful for students to know as your successes.
For many first generation college students, graduating college seems like a fairy tale ambition. For as long as they can remember, their parents and teachers have told them to “go” to college, but don’t explain how to thrive and be successful there beyond the academics. However, many of us can attest that successfully completing college is more than merely showing up and managing good grades.
Unfortunately, the road from the first day of college to graduation requires a great deal of practical problem solving skills (soft skills) of which many high schools rarely prepare students. In particular, many first generation college students need conversations which discuss how to:
- balance work and college
- build and manage good credit,
- find the best campus jobs,
- deal with financial aid difficulties,
- respond to potential parental conflicts, i.e. “college is easier than a real job”
- decide on whether to live during college, i.e. on campus, off campus, or at home.
Ideally, the goal of having “real world” talks in the classroom is to make the transition to college and real life as transparent as professionally possible for students. I struggled a great deal as an undergraduate and I have shared my first generation college struggles with my students. I have shared the difficulty of working too many hours and how it negatively impacted my college grades. I have shared how I managed tough and indifferent professors as well as the importance of speaking up and asking questions in class. In addition, I have also shared how I learned to better manage my finances and how I successfully found help when I ran into obstacles in college.
However, first generation students need varied perspectives on how to successfully complete college. And since teachers are the most readily available resource for first generation students, who better to share these kinds of stories? I cannot speak on what it is like to have generations of successful college graduates in my family, but some of my colleagues can.
So, if you’re interested in how I set up my “real world” conversations in class and some possible suggestions for your classroom please stay tuned for Part II of “Why You Need to Have Real World Talks with Your Kids.”